Imagine yourself on the island of Majorca, relaxing in the hills of your farm in the village of Esporels. You lazily tend to your pigs, sow your fields, hire some helpers and take some of goods to the local market. Sounds idealic right? Well that is the setting of La Granja and although it might sound ideal competition is high and it is hard work to grow your humble farm and earn the title of "La Granja."
La Granja, is a 1-4 player, worker placement, resource management, economic farming game with a splash of area control, dice rolling and multi-use cards, designed by Michael Keller and Andreas Odendahl. Seems like a mix of mechanics all thrown in to one game but how does it play and is it any good?
Read on for an overview of the gameplay or skip to the end for my final thoughts.
La Granja Overview
In La Granja, players are in charge of a small farm on the island of Majorca and are competing to earn the title of “La Granja.” The game is played over six rounds where players can expand their farm by adding additional fields, farm extensions, market barrows and helpers. Players earn victory points for delivering goods to the local village market or craft buildings in Esporles.
The cards in La Granja have four different uses and it is (in my humble opinion) one of the best examples of multi-use cards. There is also a dice drafting round which effectively determines which actions can be taken during the turn. Delivering items to the market place (detailed on the central board) makes up the area control aspect of the game. Resources can also be delivered to the craft buildings, granting once per round bonuses. At the end of the sixth round the player with the most victory points is declared the winner.
The game lasts for six rounds and each round is split in to the following four phases:
- Farm Phase
- Revenue Phase
- Transport Phase
- Scoring Phase
There are also a number of other actions that you can take at any time during the game which will be explained later in this review.
- Farm Phase
This phase is where the main use of the multi-use cards come in to play. During the Farm Phase each player can place one card and then draw up to their hand limit. Every card can be used in four different ways depending on where it is placed on the player board.
- Cards placed on the right are classed as farm extensions and can increase a player's hand limit, let you perform more donkey actions (see transport phase), increase your income and give you a pen to hold your pigs.
- Cards placed on the left are classed as farms and give you basic harvest goods during the revenue phase of grain, olives and grapes.
- Cards placed at the top are classed as market barrows and give you a number of items that need to be delivered to the central market board and the reward for completion.
- Cards placed at the bottom are classed as helpers. These provide either one time bonuses or on going abilities.
After placing cards and drawing up to their hand limit players take their income (money, resources, trade commodities depending on the players farm). Next, all farms produce harvest goods if there is available space and if a player has two pigs, they breed to produce a third if there is an available pen. It is important at this stage that players try to have all their fields empty as each field can only hold a single harvest good.
If a field already contains a harvest good at this stage then additional goods are not generated. Likewise for pigs, if there is not an empty pig pen then the pigs do not breed. The final action in the Farm Phase is to purchase roof tiles. These offer one time use bonuses and the cost of the roof tiles is based on the round number (round one they cost one gold, round two they cost two gold and so on). They also give you victory points at the end of the game.
- Revenue Phase
The Revenue Phase is where the dice drafting aspect of the game appears. The starting player rolls the dice (number dependant on the player count). Each die pip corresponds to a specific action as per the below:
- Take a pig.
- Play a card / Draw a card or take one harvest good (Olive, Grape, Grain).
- Take two different harvest goods.
- Take four silver.
- Upgrade a harvest goods/move up the siesta track.
- Perform a delivery/take two silver.
Each player takes a die in turn order and performs the action until there is only one die left. All players get to perform the action corresponding to the final die.
- Transport Phase
The Transport Phase is where goods from your fields or player board are delivered to your market barrows or craft buildings. At the start of this phase each player chooses one of their donkey markers. The donkey markers display either one, two, three or four donkeys (representing the number of deliveries a player can perform) and then either three, two, one or zero siesta hats. Siesta hats allow a player to move up the Siesta Track which determines turn order for the next round and grants victory points depending on how far they have progressed up the Siesta Track that turn.
Depending on the donkey marker selected a player then performs that many deliveries to the market barrows or relevant craft building. (i.e. if a player selects the three donkey/one siesta marker then they can move three resources to a market barrow or craft building and move one space up the Siesta track). If a market barrow is completed then the player receives a trade commodity and places a marker (to represent a building) on the market board. If a craft building is completed then the relevant bonus is taken and added to the players farm.
Once a donkey marker is used it cannot be used again until the start of the fourth round so careful selection of the donkey markers is crucial. Depending on a players farm extensions extra donkey deliveries can be purchased at the end of the transportation phase.
- Scoring Phase
The Scoring Phase is the final phase in the round. Each player scores points for the buildings on the main market board and their position on the Siesta Track. The Siesta Track is rest to zero and new roof tiles are revealed.
Play continues this way until all 6 rounds have been played and the final scores are calculated. The player with the most victory points is declared the winner.
At any time in the game players can buy and sell any goods for the prices displayed on the player board. Players can also upgrade their harvest goods (Olives to olive oil, grape to wine, grain to food and pigs to meat) for a cost.
Players can also exchange any trade commodities to gain four silver, two different harvest goods, upgrade two harvest goods free of charge, play a card, draw a card or gain a pig.
Donkey Disaster or Fantastic Farming?
La Granja is a mash up of many different game mechanics (and they even reference which ones in their manual; Dice for the galaxy by Michael Keller, Glory to Rome by Carl Chudyk and Luna by Stephen Feld) and at first glance seems like this could be a recipe for disaster. But this is not the case. The designers have taken aspects of many different games and stitched them together in to something new. It doesn't feel clunky and all the mechanics work well. The multi-use cards seem daunting at first but once players understand what each section of the card does they are easy to understand and digest.
La Granja is a great game. It offers some tough decisions regarding which cards to play, what strategy to take and how best to use what you have to the best effect. It is on the medium to heavy side and plays in about 90 minutes with two players. It does have a steep learning curve and I recommend everyone to play through a few rounds of the game before trying to teach this to someone else. I found it was one of those games that was better to play and teach as you go along rather than trying to explaining all the rules, dependant on your gaming group of course.
The multi-use cards and the way they are used on the player board is brilliant and looks visually appealing. I find that I want to use all my cards for all four of their uses and making the decision to place that card as a field, extension, helper or market barrow is not an easy one. The area control aspect with the market place can get a bit fierce as there is the ability to bump other people's buildings off the market board and the board is tight, especially with two players as some spaces are blocked off.
The fulfilling of market barrows vs. craft buildings is another choice that will dictate what path you take, although in most games I have played the market barrows seem the better choice. I have not pursued the craft buildings during any of my games, but the bonuses that are received from these are very appealing and make me want to go down this route. The craft buildings might become more appealing at higher player counts as the area control aspect of the market board would be intensified due to the limited space.
I also find myself using the cards more for their fields, extensions and market barrows rather than as helpers. I have played this game a number of times now and there are aspects of the game and routes to victory that I have not investigated which is what keeps me coming back to La Granja. The mash-up of multiple game mechanics and multiple paths to victory is why I enjoy this game and will be keeping it in my collection for a long time.